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When we talk about Dutch football, so many legends come to mind. Johan Cruyff, Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Dennis Bergkamp, Robin van Persie, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Patrick Kluivert, Arjen Robben and more. One man whose name often finds itself surprisingly low on these lists though, is Clarence Seedorf.
A stallion of a central midfielder, Seedorf was one of the best and most complete players of his generation. He’s still to this day the only player to win the UEFA Champions League with three different clubs, while he also won a league title in every country he played in throughout Europe.
Seedorf began his career at Ajax, after being scouted by Johan Cruyff’s scouting school ‘Urgent Scoutingteam’. He made his first-team debut for the Dutch giants aged just 16 years and 242 days in November 1992, becoming their youngest ever player at the time. Initially as a wide midfielder under Louis van Gaal, Seedorf established himself as a key player in Ajax’s golden generation team and in his second season at the club helped them to secure the treble. They won the league in 1993/94, pipping Feyenoord to the title by three points, with Seedorf scoring four goals in 19 appearances. They also won the KNVB Cup as well as the Dutch Super Cup that year.
Seedorf was even more important the following year as he moved into a more central role, as Ajax’s revolutionary 3-4-3 formation saw them go unbeaten during the 94/95 Eredivisie season, whilst also shocking the continent by winning the UEFA Champions League. Seedorf made 48 appearances in that campaign before deciding he wanted to take up a new challenge with his contract expiring and left for Italy aged 19.
Seedorf’s style was arguably best suited to Italian football. Never blessed with phenomenal pace, Seedorf’s intelligence was remarkable for a player of his age. His vision allowed him to use his tremendous passing range, while he had one of the most powerful shots in all of football. His brain was his strongest asset, while he was also a powerful unit able to hold his own in a midfield battle.
He signed for Sampdoria on a one-year deal and continued his good form in Serie A, although he couldn’t help them to any silverware during his time there. At the end of the season, Seedorf was attracting interest from some of the biggest clubs in the world, and opted to sign for Spanish giants Real Madrid on another Bosman free transfer.
It was here where Seedorf really let his talents begin to show to the rest of the world. His name was seen as one of a star and his long range goal against Atletico Madrid is still shown regularly in Spain.
During his first three seasons, he was a regular starter at the club but when countryman Guus Hiddink took over, his role began to decrease. He was often a substitute and Madrid even tried to swap him for Zinedine Zidane, but the deal with Juventus fell through. Seedorf spent four seasons in Madrid, where he won the La Liga title and another Champions League before eventually moving back to Italy with Inter Milan.
Back in Italy, Seedorf found a home. The slower pace of the league helped him to dominate games more and his greater experience now meant that he was twice the player he was during his spell with Sampdoria.
A €23 million move to the San Siro meant Seedorf was returning with great pressure, but he performed admirably during his time at the club. He helped take the club to the Coppa Italia final during his time in blue and black and although they lost to Lazio 2-1 on aggregate, it was his goal that stood alone for Inter. He moved clubs again after three seasons with Inter, being traded to city rivals AC Milan for Francesco Coco.
Seedorf became a mainstay in the AC Milan midfield after this move, spending ten illustrious years in the red and black side of the San Siro. As part of a legendary midfield alongside Italian duo Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso, Seedorf won two Serie A titles, the Coppa Italia once, two Champions League trophies (appearing in three finals), two UEFA Super Cups, two World Club Cups and two Italian Super Cups. He established his reputation as one of the all-time great midfielders by helping to dominate a league that was filled with world class talent during that era.
His partnership with Kaka was a huge reason behind Milan’s 2007 Champions League win, with the two combining for goals against Bayern Munich and Manchester United en route to the final.
Seedorf left Milan as his contract expired and his age was catching up with him, but he left as a legend. He is the foreigner with the most appearances for the Rossoneri with 431 appearances, while he ranks ninth on the list of highest foreign goal-scorers with 63 goals.
‘Il Profesere’, as he was nicknamed in Italy, decided to move on to Botafogo in Brazil to end his career. Even in his mid-thirties, his footwork wasn’t out of place in South America and he was still good enough to help lead the side to two trophies during his second season at the club. He eventually retired to go back to Milan as a manager, although his career as a coach hasn’t gone nearly as well as his playing career did.
A legendary footballer, Seedorf represented his country on 87 occasions. He played for Oranje during Euro ‘96, World Cup 1998, Euro 2000 and Euro 2004. His penalty miss in the shootout of the ’96 quarter-final vs France makes that the only occasion he didn’t get to the semi-finals of a major tournament with his country – although he never won any honours with Holland.
His international career came to an end after a public bust-up with then manager Marco Van Basten, someone he once called an idol while he was growing up. He is ranked tenth in the all-time appearance charts for Holland, tied with Johnny Heitinga and is fondly remembered by all.
Despite possessing the physique of a God, Seedorf was never someone who relied on his physical attributes to get him through games. While it obviously benefited him to usually be the strongest player on the pitch, his mind was just always two steps ahead. It’s the reason he was able to play professionally for 21 years, with the vast majority of that time at the highest level.
The next time a conversation occurs where the ‘golden generations’ of Dutch football are discussed and the usual names are being reeled off, be sure to be the one that includes Clarence Seedorf and watch as those around you reminisce on a true genius’ career.